Cruelty investigation prompts massive recall of beef

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Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. of Chino, Calif., issued a recall Feb. 17 of 143 million pounds of beef as a secondary result of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's investigation into allegations that the company abused nonambulatory cattle.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service initiated its investigation Jan. 30 after the Humane Society of the United States released footage from an undercover operation to back allegations that Hallmark/Westland employees abused nonambulatory cattle. The HSUS says it chose the company at random for the operation.

Specifically, the HSUS alleges that the abuse included spraying nonambulatory cattle with high-intensity water hoses and rolling them with forklifts in attempts to force the animals to stand long enough to pass inspection for slaughter.

On Jan. 31, the AVMA released a statement condemning such practices— noting that they are not only inhumane, but also in violation of federal law. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act mandates humane handling and slaughter of cattle, swine, sheep, and other livestock at facilities subject to federal inspection. A regulation that went into effect last year prohibits slaughter of nonambulatory cattle for human consumption, though the primary purpose of the rule is to reduce the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy entering the food supply.

The AVMA has several policies on the humane treatment of production animals. The policy titled "Disabled livestock" recommends that "disabled livestock be handled humanely in all situations." The policy recommends immediate euthanasia of cattle that are nonambulatory at slaughterhouses.

The AVMA urged FSIS and the USDA inspector general to investigate the situation at Hallmark/Westland thoroughly and to enforce federal standards.

On Feb. 4, FSIS suspended inspections at Hallmark/Westland—thus halting company operations—citing "clear violation of federal regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act." The USDA indefinitely suspended the company's participation in a number of federal food and nutrition initiatives, including the National School Lunch Program and Emergency Food Assistance Program.

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners issued a statement Feb. 5 condemning abusive practices at the Chino slaughterhouse.

The AABP stated: "The images seen in the videos from the California slaughter facility are deplorable. The AABP Principles of Animal Welfare clearly state that abuse of animals is not acceptable under any circumstances. Our profession strongly promotes proper care and handling practices for livestock, and abuses seen in this situation cannot be tolerated."

The suspension of federal inspections at Hallmark/Westland will remain in effect until the company submits corrective actions to ensure humane handling of animals and FSIS verifies the corrective actions. The district attorney in San Bernardino County, Calif., also filed animal-cruelty charges Feb. 15 against two employees whom Hallmark/Westland had terminated.

In the course of the USDA investigation, FSIS found evidence that Hallmark/Westland did not contact the FSIS public health veterinarian consistently when cattle became nonambulatory after passing inspection. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said multiple safeguards against BSE mean the cattle were "extremely unlikely" to be at risk for the disease, but the Feb. 17 recall of beef products from Hallmark/Westland was necessary because the company's procedures violated federal regulations.